Sheer Publishing and Khula Records have paid tribute to the late Nana Coyote – a true southern African music legend.
Owner of Coyote’s last recording home, Khula Records, Rob Luce, described the former Stimela singer as “the best singer – and musician – that I’ve ever worked with”. For his part, Sheer Publishing’s David Alexander said that Coyote’s songwriting talent was of “the highest order”.
“Besides being the best singer – and musician – I’ve ever worked with, the thing that I will remember most about Nana is how much he loved people,” recalls Luce whose label issued a trio of Coyote’s solo recordings – Mofe (Second Time Around), Celebrate (My God) and Malatjie .
“He always had time to shake hands and talk with people who recognized him and it wasn’t unusual for him to break into song in a shop or on the street to the delight of onlookers.
“There was a young guy in our neighbourhood who was only 17 and had come from Zimbabwe seeking work to support his family – including a baby of his own. Nana looked at his torn shoes, asked him his size and promised to get him a new pair. Sure enough, next time Nana came to the studio he presented him with a new pair of white takkies. It’s encounters like that which speak volumes about Nana’s incredible humanity.”
For Alexander, Coyote’s death – coming so soon after Busi Mhlongo’s – is a real blow to the southern African music industry. “We have lost an enormous talent and someone whose body of work is really tied to South Africa’s struggle for and emergence into freedom. Nana’s talent really was of the highest order.”
Born Tsietsi Daniel Motijoane, Coyote had been battling pneumonia for several weeks when he passed away on July 5th at Johannesburg’s Helen Joseph Hospital. His family along with former Stimela bandmate, Ray Phiri had been at his side during this period.
Although born in Lesotho in 1955, Coyote gained his reputation as a formidable singer and musician first n South Africa – performing with the Sharpeville-based The Black Five for a decade. In 1980, Coyote returned to Lesotho as an exile and joined Uhuru (later renamed Sankomota), spending three years with them before returning to South Africa and The Black Five.
Coyote’s astonishingly strong voice and performing ability saw him feature on the hit track “I’m Suffering” by Ozila – which caught the attention of Stimela’s Lloyd Lelosa. Lelosa rapidly teamed up Coyote with Steve Kekana and the result was the now classic track, “Take Your Love”.
By now another member of Stimela – the leader, Ray Phiri – had also become a Coyote admirer and asked the young sensation to lend his voice to ‘Whisper In The Deep (Phinda Mzala)’ another great, South African classic. Later, when Phiri left Stimela to tour with Paul Simon, Coyote stepped into his frontman shoes – and his status as a leading southern African musician was cemented. He recorded Stimela’s last studio album – “Out of the Ashes” as the voice of the band.
Over the course of his career, Coyote recorded five albums with Stimela including ‘Mmabatho Live’ as well as 10 solo albums. His astonishing voice saw Coyote also in-demand as a collaborator working with everyone from Ladysmith Black Mambazo to Kelly Khumalo, DJ Cleo, and Nhlanhla Nciza.
Awards were also forthcoming for Coyote: On November 14th last year he was given a “Legendary Award’ at the Emfuleni Arts and Culture Awards, adding to previous honours by the Department of Arts and Culture (2005) and Arts Alive (2001).
Coyote’s early death is especially poignant when set against his health struggles in 2007. The singer had not been expected to survive from major surgery early in the year – and when he did, he wrote the uplifting, transcendent song ‘Celebrate (My God)’ – one of the songs on ‘Mofe (Second Time Around)’. “It’s a cliché I know,” says Luce, “but in songs like this, Nana has left us with a brilliant body of work that will always be treasured.”